The Moment Liège-Bastogne-Liège Was Won

No need for too much analysis, Tadej Pogačar attacks early on La Redoute. Richard Carapaz gives chase but can’t stay in contact and the Slovenian solos away for the win. It really was that simple.

Is there more to write home about? A massive crash saw the field split just inside the 100km to go point, on the approach to the first of the climbs after Bastogne. A road block of tangled bodies and bikes meant and caught behind simply could not get past including Mathieu van der Poel, Tom Pidcock and Romain Grégoire. You could blame them for sitting at the back but it wasn’t too much of a rookie mistake given the weather and many riders sitting up to remove clothing before the race heated up. Among those injured was Kévin Vauquelin.

Up ahead the lead bunch didn’t wait with Israel-PremierTech moving to the front and upping the pace, within no time they’d reeled in the early breakaway and had Van der Poel and company at almost a minute. Things would regroup but those delayed lost some of their plumage in the chase, it might explain why Pidcock didn’t feature as much as expected but the cold probably froze many out of action too.

UAE led the bunch across the Ardennes with Finn Fisher-Black and Domen Novak setting the pace. Having asked yesterday where Pogačar would attack, La Redoute or the Roche-aux-Faucons, we quickly got the answer as he launched on La Redoute.

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The interesting thing was he went early. It made sense, the longer the climb the more his advantage over many of the others, especially Mathieu van der Poel. Still, this was on th3 the opening section that runs parallel to the express road. Novak finished his pull and Pogačar attacked. A quick burst out of the saddle, maybe 12 pedal strokes, and he was away Behind everyone else was bobbing and weaving on the pedals.

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Richard Carapaz was the best of the rest but the contrast in styles was flagrant, Pogačar seated and spinning while Carapaz had his chain in the big ring and was jerking about trying to recruit every sinew.

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Pogačar was away and quickly taking time. At one point he was racing in the dry while the chasers behind were being blasted by hail, even Mother Nature was supplying the symbolism. Marc Hirshi was behind but was hardly needed to dampen the chase. Race over? Not quite as there was a lively contest behind. Ben Healy made several attacks and on his third move he was joined by Romain Bardet. The pair had Benoît Cosnefroy and Romain Grégoire join and would stay away until the Roche-aux-Faucons.

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The quartet never had much more than 20 seconds and Bardet persisted on the climb, he only had a few seconds on the chase led by Egan Bernal and Maxim Van Gils. Each attack from the group though couldn’t quite reach Bardet’s slipstream and he persisted, visibly on the limit yet never giving up.

As the descent into Seraing began Van der Poel bridged across to the chase group and the second inevitability of the day cam into view: he’d be on the podium with his sprint. Bardet held for second and sure enough Van der Poel was fastest in the finishing straight to finish third.

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The Verdict
A clear win for Tadej Pogačar in a race with few surprises. His team set the pace for much of the day and once his last helper pulled over he attacked and went solo to the finish. All so simple but a demonstration of a ride, comparable to Van der Poel’s wins in the Ronde and Roubaix for the way he was separate from the rest of the field in the final hour.

Some riders complain in private that their team’s pre-race briefings can be an hour long, an information overload. UAE’s plan was simple as they took turns to set the pace before their leader finished off the job alone in the final 30km. For Pogačar this wasn’t just another win. Two years ago he didn’t start this race after his partner’s mother died and he pointed to the sky crossing the finish line today in tribute; a year ago he crashed and broke his scaphoid.

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The race for second place was entertaining. On the one hand they were beaten and only trading moves within the final 30km… but it was only last year that we were wowed by the audacity of Remco Evenepoel launching on La Redoute. Before the race often only came to the boil on the Roche-aux-Faucons. Romain Bardet’s catch-me-if-you can act was a thrill and satisfying to see him get his best result after a decade of trying to win here, Egan Bernal was active in the final. Ben Healy has been very strong in the Ardennes but couldn’t get a result.

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Van der Poel’s podium is probably the best result for him: he can see a route to victory but how to engineer a bunch sprint on the banks of the Meuse? He also becomes the first rider to finish on the podium in the Ronde, Roubaix and Liège in the same season… since his father Adrie.

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82 thoughts on “The Moment Liège-Bastogne-Liège Was Won”

  1. should’ve waited to post this here – great write up thank you INRNG:

    utterly brilliant from MVDP to stay calm and let the race come back together.

    I feel he’s always been strong on tactics (although always easier to be tactically good if you’re strong) but really impressive the way he rode after the crash, and even in the finale to third. Different ride from his wins recently but eye catching still – would be interesting to know what his tactics to try and win in a perfect scenario actually were today? It seems conserving energy was the priority, understandably.

    Excellent from Bardet also, firmly expected him to be caught when he had only 9secs, knowing he’s an average time-trialist but no – fantastic result – and a podium any rider would love to be on sandwiched between two all time greats!

    Long felt Bardet’s underrated, not necessarily for his talent but his work ethic and intelligence – of how he gathered this AG2R team around him during the late Froome era and maximised has results to be close to the most successful French rider of the last three decades despite being one of the least showy (even if his results are more consistently impressive than a series of big wins).

    AND Pog. What do you say? I was convinced he was going easy on La Redoute hoping someone would come with him to be dropped later but when he eventually saw he too far ahead it forced him to go solo – either way, he’s simply outrageous and a privilege to watch.

    Enjoyed today a lot – assume many will have not enjoyed but would be interested to know how many watched from La Redoute onwards and missed the intrigue following the crash and Pidcock/MVDP’s differing routes back into the pack. Also, in truth I just find watching Pog ride away funner to watch than Remco in the past few years because he comes across as such a fun and likeable character.

    • On the Redoute Pogi went as strong and steady as possible, a short uphill ITT, even the previous all-time record performance (Remco 2023 I think) would have placed you some 10″ back, so I doubt he thought anyone could keep that pace, or even stay close, unless he’s really unaware of his capabilities.

      • Yes – I noticed the comment below say it was the fastest and a podcast later…

        Which all makes sense, just at the time it didn’t feel it? I’ve seen him sprint and put in hard efforts standing on climbs so many times that a fully seated effort with every other riding nearly falling over their handle bars behind just didn’t feel like he was going all in?

        But he must have been? His seated attack power night actually be his most remarkable quality I’m starting to think following this.

  2. re Adrie VDP being on podium’s – I wasn’t sure if you meant in his career or in one year – wikipedia says 1986 was the year he was on all three. Amazing bit of info, Thank You.

  3. One of the most boring classics seasons I can remember. Currently it seems that MSR is the only race in the calendar which offers some suspense. The rest are foregone conclusions. Pogacar getting the KOM on Redoute into a block headwind just defies belief.

    • Yes, those 2 big crashes in E3 and Basque tour have ruined the season. With 6 riders head and shoulders above the rest you need several of them in each race to make a competition of it. MvdP sadly was not going to trouble Pogi.
      If anything the big crash today made the race more interesting than usual, introducing some jeopardy into it. Poor Pidcock, busting a gut to get across only to see the group he’d left behind come cruising up 5 minutes later. Don’t you just hate it when that happens!
      Well done to Bardet for killing himself for second place, especially as he’d come off finishing a very cold and wet Tour of the Alps. Same for Paret Peintre and Wout Poels

  4. A predictable outcome, although I enjoyed Bardet’s guts for his 2nd place.

    The women’s race, by contrast, was excellent and I wouldn’t have called the winner in the approach to the finale. Their classics season has been much more entertaining, and thankfully the television coverage is a lot more comprehensive than was historically the case.

  5. So was it not considered unsportsmanlike for IPT/UAE to push the pace after that big crash? It didn’t seem to me that the “race was on” as the commentators said, but I don’t always grasp these unwritten rules of the sport.

    • Honestly, in one-day races, I don’t think the “unwritten rules” really apply. If you’re hanging in the back of the peloton and get caught behind a crash, that’s a risk you took. If there were a crash going into the Cipressa in San Remo, should the riders ahead of the crash stop riding? I’d give that a strong “No.”

      • I wondered that myself. But regarding your analogy: the difference in this case is that on the Cipressa the race is always going to be considered on, given its location in the parcours, no? Today’s crash was 100km from the finish. But maybe in a monument/classic the race is always “on” or maybe UAE/IPT had planned to crush it on the ensuing hill.

    • I think it’s fair to say that 50% is racing has changed slightly with younger generation and waiting/gentlemen’s agreements are less of thing…

      50% is those unwritten rules have always been slightly different in one day races and being caught behind crashes because you choose a bad moment to go back to the team car or similar is just life and you’ve got to deal with it – no one seemed to complain after though.

      I’m always a tiny bit iffy with gentlemen’s agreements as quite often (in all life) they lead to a self elected executive imposing themselves on others and effectively bullying under the guise of thoughtfully overseeing. I remember in the late Schleck era a general grumbling that there shouldn’t be racing on the descents which may have been justified on certain dangerous descents but also felt too beneficial to the brothers own racing preference.

      • Remembering Cancellara trying to shop steward the Tour on the descent of the Stockeau because it was raining and his team-leaders couldn’t ride downhill.

        • Little unfair (but only a little as the Schlecks were undoubtedly mince going downhill), I seem to recall it was a bit of an ice rink with the theory that there’d been petrol or diesel on the road

          • Recall Cavendish sarcastically asking him when they were allowed to race again, also.

            Never understood why Cancellara got to decide when there was racing and when there wasn’t.

          • Cancellara got to decide because he was Patron, ( look it up) and riders respected him.
            We could use a good Patron these days. To teach the young ones.
            Cav is the other side of the coin. After all, there’s two sides.

          • ZKelly: the young ones are teaching patrons nowadays – and thankfully there is no rider with enough gravitas (or rather hybris) to try to force the entire peloton to oblige to his antediluvian position or particular (sic) view of the race situation. Patrons are relicts of a bygone age – as they should be.

          • +1 Fra

            Feel like Patron’s are more often than not just an excuse for some big ego to act the enforcer and fulfil their own delusions of grandeur – Lance shouting down one of the few non-dopers in the bunch springs to mind, as does Hinault’s Mr Muscle act of the early 80’s. More often than not it’s just ends up being a bit embarrassing a few years later.

            Now we have radios, decent rules/ref’s (shown repeatedly recently with races stopped immediately when there’s a lack of ambulances) I struggle to see the point of a Patron. I doubt they would have stopped the bunch and prevented incidents like Fabio Jakobsen’s (as that exact finish had being present in the years before probably demonstrates) and given the reaction here to the CPA’s Roubaix intervention those kind of actions seem to be rarely popular anyway (even if that’s a separate issue). But Adam Hansen’s (like him or loathe him) role as a strengthened rider representative probably fulfils this role in a more far sighted and thoughtful way as it is nowadays.

            I far prefer what we have today if this is the post Patron era.

            Also made me laugh that a comments section of a niche pro cycling blog got told to look up Patron as if everyone here doesn’t know already! ^____*

  6. Great report, thank you, and I’ll suggest that, while some say boring, the winner “being a foregone conclusion,” a lot can happen, and does, as evidenced by Pidcok and VdP getting hung up- their fault or not. Pidcock then perhaps burned some costly matches in haste while VdP’s relative discipline (probably informed by monuments already in the account this year) garnered him a podium (that and a turn of speed). Chapeau Bardet for never giving up, a well-deserved podium- and gripping to watch.
    Pogi may just ride away, but I think we are witnessing a legendary rider, and the fact that he dedicated his win to a lost loved one, specifically mentioned the absence of Remco in the runup, and offers copious thanks to his team- who rode brilliantly- is class. I think pink will suit him nicely.

      • Really? To me it seems as special as the Armstrong / Ulrich era, I turned off the TV and went for a walk when I saw Pogacars “feat”.

        • Agreed. Elite level dominance can be respected – from afar. I won’t spend so much time watching the Classics next year – and I wonder the long term impact on numbers watching

          • I am always happy to see someone beat the draft. Having said that I think the main ingredient missing from this year’s UpClassics was Wout van Aert.

  7. Great race, great write-up, excellent efforts and amazing rides. We are really being treated to an epic era:

    ~ Pogacar’s 10th day of racing, 6th win (not including a yellow jersey and a 3rd at San Remo)
    ~ WvDP – 3rd today after his rides at Roubaix, Flanders and team duties ride at San Remo – plus everything else in between
    ~ Bardet, amazing ride – he’s never hit the massive expectations, but has had some amazing rides along the way, thank you for never giving up

    2024 is going to be an amazing racing season.

  8. Enjoyable season. Now if Kasia can hold back a little bit and then go all in on Via Santa Caterina she’ll finally win Strade Bianche. Roll on 2025!

    • Really happy someone mentioned Kasia N!

      I’ve been watching women’s cycling for years feeling so sorry for her consistently being a runner up and isolated in late breaks – if last wks win can finally open the floodgates to see her win more I’d be very happy.

      • I’m enjoying the resurrected Vos this year. If she’d turned up at Binda, she would probably have won there too and be top of the women’s rankings, an amazing year for a 36 year old.

  9. I think MVDP group when pidcock jumped seemed to get favourable pulls by team cars. Pidcock was not granted the same favours. His luck will come. Pogacar the best but I suspect Pidcock could have been up there with Bardet.

    • I thought it was very controversial to let the cars into that 90sec gap when the chase group hadn’t given up. Any polemica appears to have been dispelled with it not affecting the outcome of the win though.

  10. “The race for second place was entertaining” – the race for first was not.

    Chapeau to elite level of talent now on display but watching the Classics is increasingly becoming a very poor way to spend a weekend afternoon. If the crushing dominance continues for years to come, I wonder the effect on viewing figures…
    If Remco not on the start line of L-B-L next year, and Pog is, I will use my time more wisely next season.

    • I wonder why this attitude is so prevalent nowadays, as if suspense is the only valid reason to see something? My go-to counter is the theater in ancient Greece, when there were no professional actors and many in the audience would have been on stage in previous years. The plays were old standards know of all – people went for the performance.

      • In sport, there are three main reasons to watch, IMO.

        One is suspense – uncertainty about the outcome. Not much of that in the Classics season this year, or in CX over the winter. In most races you could just look at the lineup and know who would win. Sometimes we’ve even known in advance exactly when the winning attack would happen.

        The second is emotional investment in a team or individual. Although I like the way certain people approach races – mostly those who are underdogs trying to make something happen – I really don’t feel that excited about any of the peloton.

        The third is technical brilliance. Perhaps some people love watching Manchester City, Bayern, Djokovic, or whoever win year after year. There’s a limit how much time you can spend admiring Pogacar’s suplesse or MvdP’s accelerations though.

        I’ll look forward to the Giro and the Tour because of the scenery and the variety of stories, and hope the GC battle is more interesting than the early part of the season has been.

        • i don’t think this take is fair if you actually account for who is in contention for these wins.

          on the cobbles we have van aert, van der poel, and pederson as legitimate and pretty closely matched contenders.

          in the ardennes (and maybe even into the grand tours) pogacar, pidcock, and evenpoel (and maybe van aert and van der poel) stand to compete.

          IF all of those riders were healthy, fit, and motivated simultaneously it could be some of the greatest racing in cycling history. just because pogacar or van der poel was dominant on the day doesn’t mean there is no competition to be had.

        • Unlike Sam, I think this is spot on. I can watch greatness and be impressed but not excited if the result is a foregone conclusion, which it largely has been recently. I switched channels to watch a Liverpool match once MDVP had gone clear in Paris Roubaix.

  11. Epic from Pogacar, but I think we all expected that. I’m not bored by it, though seems others are. It won’t always be like this.

    Fine performance by Bardet, and well deserved. He was so nearly caught, before it ballooned out again.

    An unusually canny ride from MvdP. Obviously had some fortune, but not being one of the top climbers doesn’t mean you can’t a result in LBL, given the finish.

    @inrng – Pretty sure Pidcock was ahead of the crash, but then a mechanical and the team’s cars being far back then took him behind the chase group. I understand why he felt he had to try and jump across, but knew at the time that effort would be the death knell of his chances.

    Despite Skjelmose bullishness, he really seemed affected by FW. Not many from there did well here, van Gils a superb exception, plus a word in praise of the indefatigable Benoot. Williams certainly looked shot. I couldn’t decide though whether his massive amount of layers, both worn and stuffed full into pockets, were a symptom or a cause of his problems. Not sure he’s a real climber though anyway, FW seems tailor made for him.

    • “It won’t always be like this”

      Very true. That said, the next few years it will probably be even more like this. Cyclists tend to peak around 28-29, so it would be no surprise to see at least Pog and Remco continue to improve in the next few.

      • For riders who start winning young, the peak tends to be more like age 26. In recent decades the average peak age is also 26, even for riders who don’t start winning early, but that’s an aggregated number, with ages 25-27 being the best years for most riders. Not that riders fall off a cliff by age 29, but the stats show peak years have shifted earlier.

  12. Just leaving a note, really, to say I wasn’t bored by that. It’s a huge privilege to watch Pogacar go to work. His willingness to attack on grand tours and monuments must be applauded, I love to see it. I believe he could win all five Monuments in his career and I’ll bet he’ll give P-R a go at some point.

    More broadly, the race for places was also excellent. With old master Bardet expertly using his resources and capabilities to earn an excellent result. Same for MvDP, as our host mentions. Like Pog, they each achieved the best result possible for them. Bit of a shame to see Pidcock burn so many matches, but another treat to see Bernal continue his upward trajectory.

    No, with so many stories playing out, I wasn’t bored at all.

  13. I didn’t find yesterday boring and agree with those above who found interest. I’m clearly biased though as a Pog fan, and similarly for PR/Flan I also enjoy MVDP.

    But I do think it’s completely understandable and to an extent right that some people are getting frustrated and calling these classics boring. Who can really argue? I guess the comeback, as Gabriele said the other week is it’s best to be patient as the tide will turn, interest will return and he’s right.

    But my only thought is that we should not be blaming the racers we should be blaming the sport for being set up in a way that fails it’s audience too regularly, as what most people wanted to see yesterday was Pog vs Remco (plus a.n.others if they’re up to the task…) and it’s two years now we’ve been waiting to see this but for various reasons have not, not only at LBL but also at similar races like SanSeb or Lombardia again for various reasons…

    It’s obviously due to bad luck but more than this era of great riders changing the sport and in some cases making it boring, I feel (as others have said here as well) above anything they’ve highlighted how infrequently we get the best vs the best in top form at the biggest races and that’s where the true frustration lies as it’s not all about bad luck, it’s partly bad planning.

    Luckily though we get a bonus race at the Olympics this year so hopefully that will slightly make up for those who found these recent wkends boring.

    My only overall takeaway though is however much I’d have loved to see a race yesterday (despite still finding what we got fun), I’d prefer seeing what we did knowing the best rider won rather than another Amstel where it was hard to forget that had other riders been present or in top form Pidcock might not have been the winner. Amstel was a good dose of fresh air though in this particular season so glad we had it.

    • Very true. Unfortunately as long as the TDF occupies such an outsized role in cycling many of the top riders will continue to prioritize nothing else. Happily we have Van der Poel, a real classics rider, and Pogacar who is seemingly willing to do anything and everything despite risks to his TDF prospects. Wout van Aert would have changed the dynamics, but I the rest of the injured riders probably wouldn’t have raced regardless.

    • I’m afraid I think it’s really bullshit to devalue a win because someone else wasn’t there. I have seen this so many times (Nibali at the TdF, for example). You can only win against who’s there, and if you do that you are the winner. Playing it down because of the absence of ‘whoever’ is just fantasizing.

      • That’s not quite what I’m saying but fair that you think that.

        What I mean is – we have races like Brabantse-P which are generally secondary races and a great place to see up and coming riders perform and we watch expecting that, so it’s perfect. I was really happy to see Cosnefoy win there.

        Then we have the top tier races where the big guns come and we’re all hoping for a feast…

        And then you always have a grey area – Amstel possibly used to be more valuable sadly but it’s still a great and impressive win for Pidcock – as well as being the best race of the entire classics campaign…

        I think you can both praise Pidcock for winning a great race and have in the back of your mind that the status of the race (for good or bad) this year seemed to not entice Pog who saved his powder but would’ve likely beaten Pidcock had he ridden. It’s not the same as those as you say unfairly criticising Nibali’s Tour victory.

        It’s true that you can only beat what is in front of you and I actually agree and support that view – but no view is iron clad, there are always caveats.

        In the same way as Jai Hindley winning the Giro was brilliant and fully deserved but no one talks of him in the P/V bracket?

        I think we need to be able to praise winners but be honest about where they rank still even if that might sound a tiny bit demeaning it’s not disrespectful, just saying what you see.

        My overall argument is that it is the system not the riders or audience at fault – and that leads to disagreements like this when in truth I think we likely agree. I was over the moon for Pidcock to win.

    • Still within a reasonable perspective, you’re overestimating the mere “big guns clashing” factor against the sheer superiority of some of them on some course and other details. Generally speaking, you’ve got a (legitimate and appropriate) focus on single events rather than on the “diachronic” POV on athletes through their careers, which is probably the more powerful narrative in cycling nowadays.

      However, you’re surely right about most of the question belonging to the mind (expectations, memories) of some spectators rather than to race themselves.
      See Lombardia. Pogačar won last edition with 2 of the other supposed big 6 in the final top 10, then you had a bunch of GT winners and TDF podiumers (a couple of Yates, Carapaz) plus strong players like Vlasov or C. Rodríguez. Yet it looked doomed (cramps apart). In 2021 and 2022 you also had Vingegaard at the start, and even trying quite hard, but… In 2021 Pogi had beat Roglic and a still decent Alaph. And yet, above you place Lombardia close to SanSeb… just because in two editions Remco wasn’t at the start. It’s very much about where one focuses his or her fixations.

    • If they race more in order to clash more often, they’ll crash more often and clash less often 😛
      If they try to race more often and harder in top shape, they’ll soon lose top shape…
      If you further increase the focus on TDF (making of it an end of season event or so), people will race more or keep their powders dry (see Armstrong years and beyond), hence the clash in other races will be only apparent, even if you force them to start.
      What we can get is more races won by second-line athletes, not more real clashes. In no sport (barring perhaps motor “sports” or golf… and for a reason…) you can have very frequent very top clashes, even less so if you expect to have more than a couple or three of the, say, 5 best in the whole mix. How many times in the quarter of finals of a tournament competition the 8 contenders are all of them the very cream of the sport? Finals in athletics with all the 8 *very* best… yes, how often? Besides, sports favouring more frequent top clashes often have very serious issues of athletes’ health, quite worse than cycling, even, despite not going 80 kmh on a bike. Many of them are pure team sports, so the athlete is disposable. Tennis players famously were fed up with their physical situation. And as I showed in the past top clashes aren’t that much more frequent than in cycling.

      • Yes – my overall thinking on this is a bit more nuanced than it’s possible to blab on here about, despite my best efforts and copious comments recently – and not to pretend they deserve anyone’s attention or time though! Agree and have thought over your points and all of which are valid, and as mentioned in a comment below, in my feverish imagination there are a whole raft of inter-dependent changes that would take us to utopia and address concerns… but in my humble opinion, the first thing any person at RCS, ASO or now defunct One Cycle would be advised to do when reforming cycling is sit down with all the commenters on INRNG and come up with an accepted compromise that we can enforce on all cycling fans safe in the knowledge they’ll love what we come up with.

  14. From the likes of Thomas & Yates in the TdF to Bardet here, it’s good to see that riders more associated with the 2010s can still be in the mix. Maybe the talent difference between the 2 decades isn’t quite the chasm that it so often appears to be.

    • In stage racing and hilly races the very few (three) very best are above what we had in the previous decade, but the middle to supposedly high class of competitors sits in absolute terms quite probably below their corresponding percentiles of ten years ago. Yet, maybe precisely because they know they’re racing for 2nd place, the attitude looks often better, more aggressive (especially among them).

      On the cobbles and flatter Classics (Sanremo, sometimes the Worlds) the situation isn’t very different from the Boonen-Cancellara era. We just need Wout to get back to his place of main rival, if he still can. A huge part of his talent has been spent elsewhere and otherwise, now it’s to be seen if the process can be reverted. Classics fans must hope so, although as cycling fans we’ve been already rewarded by WVA with a 2022 TDF which will stand for the ages. Enough? Hard to say.
      However, we should also remember that before 2010 (same age as Wout now) Cancellara himself was a big Roubaix player but not as much in most other Classics, even his Sanremo had looked like a finisseur coup rather than the hit of a regular contender and Strade Bianche still called Eroica was too fresh (1st or 2nd ever run I believe). No other Classic, not even minor ones. Barring TTs, he had won “only” 16 races, 5 of them GCs (!!!) of flattish races he brought home thanks to ITTs. 2010 meant a true turn of speed which changed the whole shape of the second half of Boonen’s decade.

      Just as Boonen and Cancellara back then, the second line of rivals is powerful enough. Part of the issue is that they’re racing worse. They often go from crazy and desperate to totally resigned, fail to collude against the best and, generally speaking, don’t look like they’re exploiting their full tactical potential.

      However, both in hilly and flatter races, a huge part of the problem is about concentration of (a broad set of) resources in a few teams. Think Philipsen, van Baarle, Laporte, Benoot on the cobbles. Add to that the fact that other teams with two strong riders rarely have them working on a common strategy, it’s rather like let’s try to separately survive, see Madous and Küng, Carapaz and Healy, Wright and several teammates at Bahrain. The main occasion on which we saw a serious team play this seasons, Lidl Trek got a solid victory against the very best.

      There’s probably some generational shift happening in team cars, too, and just as apparently everybody got better in physical preparation of athletes, strategies have been lost in translation… Not that any strategy could work against an all-time best on his perfect terrain with top form and a good day, but the impression, unlike the previous decades, is that there aren’t even the needed “strategical tools” to give it a try.

      • I think the point you make about the concentration of resources is a really important one, and one that can be overlooked in a sporting context…take the upcoming Giro – the list of podium contenders looks so light that Pogacar seems many steps above them in both talent and likelihood of winning. Where are all the quality podium contenders? Well, a lot of them are on Pogacar’s team waiting to support him in the TdF…

        This effect drastically reduces the list of potential contenders – those who may find themselves on exceptional form for a day (or three weeks), those who get in a lucky breakaway, or those simply with the pedigree and talent. Meanwhile the chances of the bona fide leaders is increased. It’s no wonder so many races are won by so few these days.

    • Let me add that Sagan for example was an absolute talent who at his theoretical best had a talent as pure as today’s best (barring Pogi), although differently shaped and unique as top talent tends to be. Yet, against a comparable or even more modest competition, he won less of the most valuable races. There’s a range of reasons, the first and foremost being probably the very direction which his talent was being developed into, maximising TDF impact and a sponsor-led approach. Their decision, fine, and indeed in terms of Green Jersey competition Sagan was as dominant as MvdP at the Ronde. That said, his example, as Cancellara’s in the final part of his career, still makes very manifest the issues about strategies and teams which I have highlighted above. A more horizontal distribution of talent and resources through teams, plus a serious and “hard” tactical approach, can reduce the impact of an absolute talent. Proven. Not that we necessarily get “more entertaining” races, careful with that. However, those aspects are now quite seriously lacking, which brings us to the current dilemma. It’s also worse noting that the novelty in Cancellara and then Sagan is that they were complaining a lot, especially the former, unlike what had happened with previous champions enduring a similar situation, Boonen, Bettini, Bartoli, Gilbert even (Sagan surely had his reasons regarding ASO, judges and rules rather than rivals). The interesting thing is that historically a very effective sporting response, whether the rider was complaining or not, has always been going from far or favouring a teammate, even if you can be confident about your own sprinting skills. So, maybe we’re just watching what could have happened even more often in the very recent past had some DSs been more daring (I’m thinking about Sagan, obviously, whose middle to long range talent is out of doubt but which was used too rarely, despite looking effective, in Classics).

      • I likewise really enjoy the above comments, thank you Gabriele.

        In my own feverish imagination I’ve long wanted smaller squads to spread the talent, reduce overheads and get them racing more often rather than hidden from view training – but well aware this would involve huge knock-on changes and a complete overhaul of the sport to vaguely be viable and helpful and not going to get into that madness here!

  15. Thanks for the write up.
    The difference in body language between Pog and the competition is remarkable, not just in his attack. When Bernal tried to close the gap to the Bardet group, it looked completely different to the agile riding style of Pog.

    I also understand those who are a bit bored by the dominance of Pog, MvdP and a few others, but the spring has shown very clearly how fragile it all is. A crash, an illness or mental problems and top performance is gone. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

  16. Takeaways.
    Pogacar is in a class of his own. MVDP would have had no answer to his predictable attack even without his problems.
    Bernal looks like he is on his way back to the top. He has come through much with cheerfulness, determination and patience. Great role model.
    Pidcock showed that all the talk about his perfect race craft was misplaced by being in the wrong place when everything kicked off. No excuse.
    Street furniture is undoubtedly going to become an increasing problem in the future. It will either require increasing numbers of marshalls – there is currently a recruitment problem OR better illuminated/audible warning signage.
    Great race, stunning scenery and course, great if chilly weather.

    • Pidcock was actually in front of the crash but had a mechanical just after but his team car was behind the crash. So by the time he could get help from his car, he was already behind the MvdP group.

      Difficult to criticise his race craft for his decision to then jump and burn loads of matches to get to the lead group. In hindsight he could’ve saved his powder by sitting in with the MvdP group, but then it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that they’d get back (Luke Rowe in Eurosport commentary thought they wouldn’t). Pidcock must’ve known his move was going to dent his chances, but I guess he felt he had no option but to make the effort to rejoin the front.

      Not that he’d have stayed with Pogi in any case!

      Generally I agree with others above: a shame that Pogi rendered the last hour a foregone conclusion (my favourite aspect of bike racing is the complexity of a finale amongst multiple riders). But great to see Bernal getting back to top form, and very happy for Bardet.

  17. Men’s Road in 2024 – at least the classics – lacks surprise and suspense for me, maybe with the exceptions of Amstel & Fleche. Of course, I admire the verve and execution of Pog and MvdP, but, as a long term viewer, I just don’t feel that engaged. The predicted outcome unfolded in LBL, as it did in Strade, Flanders & Roubaix.
    In contrast, Women’s Road this year has been a treat. It’s been unpredictable and races have delivered diverse winners and storylines.

    • The thing that constantly gets me is how dumb professional cyclists are. Instead of looking at each other whilst the overwhelming favourite sails off into the distance fucking ride. You can figure out the niceties once you’ve got the gap stable.

      I think VDP was for sure the strongest at Flanders but his cause was helped by the bottleneck behind him when 90% of the field were walking up the Koppenberg. 2 against 1 with Pedersen and i-forget-who-and-i’m-not-going-to-look-it-up was always going to end up in one way.

      At Roubaix they all just immediately gave up and started thinking about the podium. I’m not saying they would have got him back, but surely you have to keep some pressure on him to try and force him into overreaching.

      • bit harsh…

        beyond riders looking to get a free ride and playing tactics, you’ve got to remember than some, if not most, will be deep in the red and in need of urgent recovery at these kind of moments – it’s what leads to the confusion/indecision – those who want to ride&chase but don’t want to overly help rivals but then the third factor of neither side knowing who’s genuinely out on their feet and who’s bluffing – I don’t feel like anyone’s being stupid it’s simply a very human moment of uncertainty and high pressure, it’s quite understandable and one of the beautiful things about sport that it can show us these windows into our psyche without the need for blood, guts and war as used to be the case.

      • This is not dumb – it’s just self fulfilling prediction.
        For example, if the race looks like it will end in sprint, then the rosters will be filled accordingly, the race will be raced accordingly, the break will be halfhearted. Next year, there will be even more teams that will be racing for the sprint. Cycle closed.
        In stage racing, if the winner is “known” the others are racing for 2nd and in the process help the favourite gain even more time on others.

        Here at LBL, there was 99% agreement that Pogačar will attack on a steep climb and nobody would follow – so the teams prepared accordingly, they raced for podium. Carapaz tried and failed, thus reinforcing the prediction.

        Mind you, the monuments are really hard to be hammered in to a self fulfilling race prediction. You need just one of the galacticos in top form, if there are more, they don’t give a damn about how the race is supposed to be unfolding.

      • Looking back at what «everyone» said about 2024 back in 2023, I guess this whole season is turning into something of an anti-climax for many, affecting their verdict of individual races. We were going to have the big anticipated clash of the big four or five or six (I lose count) in the classics and the Tour but here we are..this year as any other, people get ill or injured or skip races we would love to have them in top shape for. Watching Pogacar solo for 35k is not boring in itself maybe but fades in comparison to what could have been. And that will be the tune of 2024 for many people, I suspect.

  18. I was not bored – in fact loved it that the tactical racing started so early, albeit prompted by the big split in the field after the relatively small crash on a narrow road.
    For those of you complaining – this classic was boring for years when the finish was still in Ans – no one dared to make a big move and the race was one of attrition followed by a sprint up the St Nicolas and then a sprint to the line. People were complaining about the favourites sitting tight on La Redoute. With the ‘new’ finish we get the return of long range attacks from La Redoute and….complaints.
    Are you longing back to the days of Merckx when the outcome of racing was unpredictable?

    • I do agree with you but I think we can see it from both sides – those who are bored have a good argument for saying so and I don’t think they should be dismissed even if I’m in your camp for yesterdays race.

      In saying that what different fans find boring is interesting – I dislike MSR generally as a race and find the hours of nothing for a few minutes excitement unrewarding and similar to your review above of LBL I really enjoyed the tactics post crash around 100km to go, much more so than most MSR’s ten mins of fun, even if the differing ways MVDP/Pidcock found they’re way back on yesterday had little bearing on the outcome. I have a feeling most who found it extremely boring started watching from La Redoute and missed this but even so, whether they watched the last 150km or the last 50km it’s understandable they might have been bored and fair for them to say, as I think it’s fair for me to criticise MSR overall as a race (with the caveat there are a few editions I’ve loved)

      What different fans find boring in cycling actually gets me more as cycling is essentially a boring sport – compared to things like basketball as really not much happens most of the time (maybe slow sport is more generous but hopefully it still makes my point). Despite this, even what we all find boring within a boring sport isn’t universal! I (and it sounds like you) enjoy slow burn tactics and don’t mind long hauls whether it’s in grand tours or one day races if there’s still and undercurrent of narrative where you can feel the cream rising to the top wether that results in a long range win or something more riviting. I enjoy sudden slightly randomised action with no real preamble less, like Flèche, MSR or sprint focused one day races as the tactics get pretty flattened out in those races and usually come down to luck or snap decisions rather than slow burn chess as long climb or hilly classic can often provide.

      But each to their own. Enjoyed this comments section and all the opinions voiced.

      • Since he crashed out he still had to finish it this time, and at the time of writing the preview the weather forecast suggested it was going to snow on the race so things could have got random… but the snowfall preceded the race.

  19. On the boredom or not… each to their own as we can all find different things to enjoy or not within the race.

    Do wonder for the Giro as waiting for the attack in Liège, seeing who can follow, the fight for second and the other places… can lose its novelty if it is the same thing each day. It’ll be interesting to see the audience figures after the race is done although they depend on several things, for example a strong Italian performance boosts numbers so over to Ganna and Milan.

    • I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit also –

      Because yes it feels ominous.

      At the same time it feels like most sports in general benefit from having an ultra famous superstar (which Pog may well be on the way to being) who at some point will give the titanic battle or break incredible records that catch non-fans attention **(I need to highlight I have zero facts or research to back this up and it doesn’t really apply to this years Giro viewership either)** – I’m thinking Usian Bolt’s, Lewis Hamilton’s, even the current ultra runner Camille Herron who grabbed my interest a few weeks back for a sport I know next to nothing about. Or dare I say Voldemort himself! **(second caveat – very prepared to be shown how Armstrong’s time at the TDF actually decreased viewership either inside or outside France).

      As above though… this doesn’t help the Giro viewing figures and will likely only benefit the TDF I assume when Pog and Vin face off again, but was just on my mind.

      Also – it’s funny to think that the Giro has been more competitive in the last decade than the Tour but has that equalled growth? Which was the most viewed Giro in that era, I assume Nibali’s wins but admittedly the question of most viewed in Italy and abroad are two different issues that involve their own lengthy debates… I wish there was a world where international popularity of the Giro could grow and reawaken some lost Italian love for their magnificent race because in my limited knowledge that feels more likely than a sudden reverse internally without an Italian champion.

      Anyway – I love the Giro and cannot wait – I also like Pog so am likely the ultimate venn diagram sweet spot for the upcoming race for Pink.

      • Exactly. And his strategy may be along those lines if he wants to conserve as much energy as possible to do what hasn’t been achieved in recent times and win the Tour as well (although with big rivals getting injured to greater or lesser degrees) that may not be needed so much.

    • “Do wonder for the Giro as waiting for the attack in Liège, seeing who can follow”

      Don’t know if anyone was waiting so much as trying to hang on near the front until late and hoping they’ll have legs at that point. LBL is long and hard and IPT were setting a high pace early and UAE later. The Giro might just as likely to be like Flanders last year, a quality group forcing the pace early to try and get a gap. Do it often enough throughout the race and … who are we kidding? get shelled in the TTs and high mountains anyway.

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